Posted by: Ingrid | November 21, 2014

The downside of realistic optimism


I do not like to call myself a pessimist.  To do so would conjure up thoughts of Eeyore trailing behind his friends pronouncing doom and gloom over everything.  No, the term I prefer for myself is one that a former pastor of ours used years ago: realistic optimist.

How does this non-pessism play out in real life?  Let’s take a minor example from family life.  Say we need to go out of town on a Saturday morning.  Husband is convinced that we can all wake up at 7 am.  We can drink coffee for 30 minutes, He can send five emails and listen to an online lecture while I run 13 miles.  And we will all be fed, dressed, packed, and in the van and ready to leave at 7:30 am.  I, on the other hand (based on past experiences), am fairly convinced that it will be an arduous task to get all five of us in the same location without wanting to tear my hair out and am pretty sure we will leave no earlier than 11 am.  When reality plays out, there is only minimal screaming and stress, and we are on the road at 9:45, I am quite pleased.  (Husband could care less when we actually leave so his opinion, in this scenario, is inconsequential).

Of course, this does not work in all situations (and definitely not for some of life’s pivotal moments).  For example, I have never entered a pregnancy sure that it would end tragically or that labor would be horrific (I do, on the other hand, try to convince myself that I will be three weeks overdue).  Also, this reticence to be wildly enthusiastic over potentials extends only to my life and immediate family.  For most people, I am happy to day dream and get excited. (What!  You met a Brad Pitt twin at the bar last night and you’re pretty sure you’re going to marry him and live happily ever.  Seriously?  What are the odds?!?  You will have such beautiful babies!)

There are things that are perhaps not the best about this outlook.  It is difficult to get enthusiastic over something that you are fairly certain will not happen and it is hard to figure out my own dreams and how to move towards them because I will happily shoot them down as soon as they are thought up or verbalized.  I would say that it minimizes the highs and lows of extreme excitement and despondency that life can bring, but it by no means does away with them, and all in all, it works for me.

(Side note that Husband is the exact opposite and I am very conscious of how I respond to his dreams and brainstorming and try to be open minded when he tries to help me explore possibilities.  Eight years of marriage has taught me that shooting another person’s ideas down as they are coming out of his mouth, even if my objections make sense, is not a loving, kind, or smart thing to do.)

Anyway, this realistic optimism works so well that it just occurred to me today (after three weeks of being in the process of buying our first home) that we are closing on a house.  In less than two weeks.  And I have packed three boxes (that I may have packed today).  Apparently home buying is the dream of every realistic optimist because there’s always something.  Maybe the roof looked funny.  Or you have to negotiate the price.  Or wait on the inspector.  Or the appraiser.  So you aren’t really buying a house because you have to wait for more information.  I have mentioned the house to very few people because it doesn’t seem real yet.  But we will be moving boxes into our own home, a home in which we can actually have guests (!!!!!), in early December.  Probably there will be a blizzard on moving day.

Either way, it is time for some serious packing to happen here as I (cautiously) celebrate the biggest purchase our lives.  In this case, realist optimism looks awfully close to hard core procrastination! 🙂



  1. Wow. That’s huge! Congratulations!! And realistic optimism seems like a good idea to me 🙂

    • Thanks! We are excited about the house and the chance to really unpack our boxes finally. Lots of packing to do before that, though. 🙂

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